As unfortunate as a rather serious injury is during a pre-season game, sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise. Of course, you kind of have to be looking for silver linings, which is precisely what I'm doing here!
With Charlie Batch going down to a broken collarbone, and rookie QB Dennis Dixon being far from ready to walk into the #2 QB role, the Steelers went shopping. Turns out there are two rather high-profile QBs looking for work, and the Steelers gave both a look. Ex-Jag, ex-Falcon Byron Leftwich got the call over ex-Viking, ex-Dolphin Duante Culpepper.
The Steelers chose Leftwich, and according to published reports, he was their primary choice from the get-go, but contract concerns prompted them to bring in Culpepper for a look at the same time. So now the Steelers have 4 QBs on their roster, and this is what brings me to the point of this entry.
Having 2 really top-quality back up QBs is a luxury that virtually no team can afford these days, given salary cap constraints, and QB egos. But the loss of Batch and the import of Leftwich leaves the Steelers in a rather interesting position. What should they do? Keeping Leftwich on the roster will save them a significant chunk of change because I think Batch's contract pays him close to $1 million a year, whereas Leftwich (if he makes the roster) will get $450K. There are a lot of reasons to give Byron a hard, hard look to make this team. First, he was a number 7 overall #1 draft pick of the Jags. There were always questions about his throwing motion, but never about his leadership nor his drive to win. When healthy, he was accurate and so strong-armed that receivers literally got pummeled by the fastballs he threw. I would guess that adapting to a #2 role is not something that Leftwich really wants to do, but at the same time he would get paid for simply being on the team.
The question is, what to do with Charlie Batch? I don't think the Steelers would keep both Batch and Leftwich at the expense of Dennis Dixon. They drafted Dixon from Oregon for his blend of athletic ability, and his football smarts. I think that Steeler coaches are looking at Dixon as a project - how to utilize his athletic skills while honing his QB skills. He's far from being ready to actually play a #2 role for Pittsburgh, but having that kind of talent on the team is never a bad idea. Hell, maybe one day he could evolve into Slash #2...although I wouldn't exactly count on that. Anyway, back to Batch. Charlie has been the perfect backup QB for the Steelers. He works hard, knows the playbook, and honestly is perfectly suited for coming into the game on short notice or for a stop-gap game or two and performing quite well. He's smart with the ball, and confident enough to lead a good team to a win when called upon. He has a track record with the Steelers of doing a good to great job in the backup role. His injury is in a critical place - the kind of place that unless the doctors are very careful it could adversely impact his throwing motion.
It is highly unlikely that Ben Roethlisberger will be supplanted by either Leftwich or Batch under ordinary circumstances - about as likely as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning losing their #1 starting role for their respective teams. So it's all about injury. Roethlisberger - due to his manner of play and willingness to stand tall in the face of a pass rush - has had some injuries. None major, none career threatening, but the kind that will keep him out of a game or two here and there. So having a solid #2 in Pittsburgh is a critical thing. Leftwich shares some attributes with Ben - size, strength, arm strength. Leftwich is far less mobile than Ben, and even less mobile than Batch (who by all accounts is not a very mobile QB). But the leadership and pedigree are there - more so with Leftwich than Batch.
This is a very difficult decision for the Steelers - but a good one to have. If it comes down to a strictly financial decision, Leftwich will stay and Batch will go on the IR. If Leftwich doesn't pan out, the Steelers will keep him long enough to get Charlie healthy, then cut him. If Leftwich sets the world on fire in his backup role, then the Steelers have an even more difficult decision. But, as I said, it's a luxury. Many teams don't get the opportunity to choose between two such QBs for the #2 role.
And on a final note...given the starting QBs that some teams are planning to start opening day...one wonders why Leftwich and Culpepper weren't already taken. But I suppose those teams have their plans in place and what not. I personally think the Steelers were rather fortunate to be able to sign Leftwich. The first time that Rex Grossman pukes up a game, don't you think Chicago faithful will wonder why the Bears didn't take a longer look at someone like Leftwich?
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the situation
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